“Rare for an innovation to have such wide-ranging benefits to society:” Startup wins big with medtech solution

11/29/2022

By Cara Aungst

Phiex CEO CL Tian accepts the grand prize of $350,000 at AdvaMed’s The MedTech Conference. Photo: Steven Schloss.

Did you know that the methods used to sterilize most medical equipment have been linked to cancer? Ethylene oxide or EtO — which is used in most legacy methods — has recently been restricted by the EPA due to health risks. Without it, nearly 50% of all medical devices will be left without a scalable way to be sterilized. But Innovation Park-based Phiex has a solution — and now the necessary funding to advance that solution.

The company just won MedTech Innovator’s 2022 Grand Prize of $350,000 at AdvaMed’s The MedTech Conference in Boston, at the end of October. The award is a giant step forward for Phiex, and it comes at a perfect time, when sterilization methods need to be revolutionized quickly.

“We are pleased to have our laboratory and R&D facilities at Innovation Park and be part of the rich ecosystem at Penn State."

Phiex COO and co-founder Bob Cameron said the startup is poised to help medical device companies sterilize their equipment safely, without having to send products out to a third-party facility or using expensive capital equipment.

“Our technology enables materials such as film packaging to be the delivery system for sterilant when exposed to light or moisture,” he said. “And while our initial market has always been medical devices, the technology has a wide range of applications including extension of shelf life for foods, pathogen management in agriculture and no-water/no-power sterilization for defense.”

Phiex’s corporate office is located in Boston, but Cameron says the startup’s research facilities are firmly planted in Happy Valley. “We are pleased to have our laboratory and R&D facilities at Innovation Park and be part of the rich ecosystem at Penn State,” he said.

He said Innovation Park and access to a world-class research institution were major factors when deciding where to base the lab. “We are already exploring potential collaborations with ARL, Plastic Engineering at Penn State Behrend, Penn State’s Institute of Energy & the Environment and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center,” he explained. “We’ve also had very preliminary conversations with the food science faculty in the College of Agriculture. There are definitely many synergies to explore.”

Proximity to the talent at Penn State comes with another benefit. “Penn State provides the potential for high-quality graduates as we grow our personnel roster,” Cameron added.

Funding to meet a market need

Back to the problem of sterilization, and how Phiex’s prize money will make a dent in creating a solution.

“In addition to the wide range of medical applications, our technology has potential to extend the shelf life of foods as well as applications for contributing to national security."

“Funding is always critical to the success of a startup,” Cameron said. “Phiex is closing a round of funding that will help us see the first commercial use of our tech in medical devices next year and support our operations as we ramp up to meet the market need. Winning the recent $350,000 prize at the AdvaMed’s The MedTech Conference will certainly help us achieve our goals faster.”

Cameron said the prize also underscores the interest and support of the team’s efforts to solve pain points in the medical device industry. But more than that, it reinforces his own motivation of why he’s so passionate about studying pathogens.

“The Covid pandemic underscored how susceptible humans and our infrastructure are to pathogens,” he said. “In addition to the wide range of medical applications, our technology has potential to extend the shelf life of foods as well as applications for contributing to national security … It’s rare that an innovation has the potential for such wide-ranging benefits to society.”

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